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Healthy Menu Navigator: Classic American Diner

Diners may be pretty but their nutritional facts aren't. (Photo:
Something tells us young Milla Jovovich wasn’t eating milkshakes and burgers everyday. (Photo:


Even if you know to steer clear of the bread basket, it turns out the average restaurant meal clocks in at a whopping 1,128 calories—yep, 1,128—making it easy for even the most health-savvy among us to think we’re eating well while eating out, when we’re not.

HealthyMenuNavigatorFinal21Enter nutritionist-author Heather Bauer, of Bread is the Devil and Bestowed fame—and our culinary compass. Each week, Bauer steers us toward the healthiest choices on restaurant menus of any type.

Last time, it was what to eat at raw and vegan restaurants. This week, it’s a classic American diner! Here’s what you need to know before your waitress named Alice seats you.

Heather Bauer’s café menu navigational nugget

The beauty of a diner is that it’s not a high maintenance restaurant—meaning you can ask for substitutions: “You’re probably going to be able to ask for a Dr. Praeger’s-style veggie burger instead of a cheeseburger,” Bauer predicts. “Which is never going to be more than 200 calories.” (Not counting ketchup, mayo, and bun.)



1. Soup—ask about the soup of the day. If it’s something without cream, like chicken vegetable or minestrone, you’re good.

2. Crudite—while they might not have it on the menu, it’s easy for the chef to cut up raw veggies that they should already stock, like peppers, cucumber, and celery.

3. Pickles. But only for those who are not salt sensitive.


1. Breakfast for dinner. Breakfast all day is the best part of a diner. Order poached eggs, dry toast, and tomato slices prepared without butter.

2. Chopped salad. Every diner I’ve ever been to has done this for me: Ask for mixed greens and vegetables with grilled chicken—all chopped up—with red wine vinaigrette or lemon on the side. If you’re vegetarian, ask about adding broccoli or spinach (if it’s not frozen), or a non-processed cheese if you eat dairy. Some diners have goat cheese for omelettes.

3. Turkey sandwich. Keep it clean with turkey, lettuce, tomato, and mustard on whole wheat or rye bread. Tuna melts and grilled cheese can be tempting but high in butter, salt, and carbs.


1. Turkey burgers. This protein-packed option can have more calories than a beef patty.

2. Pancakes. They’re usually served in enormous portions, hence the term pancake “stacks.”

3. French fries. Think about your carbs. If you’re having a hamburger bun, you don’t need fries, too.

Hungry for more? Check out Bauer’s guides to ordering at a conference room lunch or a café.